Prior to and throughout the pandemic, our agricultural clients have been exposed to the most hazardous of workplaces; this is often accentuated by those handling animals, transporting a variety of goods or controlling a variety of heavy equipment. The dangers of the workplace are often fatal in the agricultural sector, and it is no secret that unfortunately the rural sector holds the lion share of all work place fatalities, with the statistics for those suffering a serious injury in the sector painting a similar picture. It is important to remember that there are hazards that can be “seen” and “unseen”, both being equally as perilous.
This week marks Farm Safety Week across the United Kingdom and it is important to highlight most common categories of workplace dangers and hazards in the agricultural sector and how employers, employees and contractors can avoid pitfalls and make farms across our great country all the more safer.
In relation to agricultural workplaces, the general health and safety legislation namely the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, reigns as the major statute and guidance which it is important to be aware of across to minimise the chances of injury or a fatality occurring on your farm.
In relation to “seen” hazards, the three major hazards are those of falls, the handling of animals and the handling of machinery. One of the biggest factors in fatal scenarios across the country was the absence of appropriate training – whether this be in handling cattle or the lack of investment in proper equipment being gates, crushes or cattle races. It is understood that many agricultural operations operate on a thin financial line, however this lack of investment can create an even more dangerous situation than realised. Training in machinery is often overlooked, and the thought of “I have used this machine for x number of years” or “This is the way I have always done it” can jeopardise thought processes for farm workers in situations and can place them at the whim and command of dangerous specialised machinery. There are excellent providers across Scotland in relation to the refinement of machinery skills – mostly offered via LANTRA or the SRUC, the point being that an investment in learning, developing or refining skills off farm is a great deterrent to the hazards on farm.
Fires on farms have been a contributor to both death and injuries, however they also contribute to major financial hardship for the business. The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 places a duty on an employer to carry out a risk assessment to protect employees from the risk fire poses. The legislation also puts a duty on an employer to take preventative action where risks have been identified. This can be achieved through the provision of firefighting equipment, considering if where you store flammable materials or flammable substances is the most appropriate place or if there is somewhere else where there is less risk of ignition and a fire occurring.
The long hours of farming often do not lend well to rest, especially in peak times of lambing, calving, planting or harvest. Tiredness leads to a lack of alertness and considering the dangers narrated above, farmers can find themselves in extremely volatile situations due to lack of sleep and exhaustion. Additionally, the pressures of farming, whether through the technical skill, financial strain, isolation and loneliness or lack of support, farmers should also bear in mind their mental health, which is often easier said than done. It is an unfortunate common occurrence due to the modern intensities that surround the agricultural sector for accidents to occur or intentional incidents to result in fatalities. These “unseen” hazards on farm can easily be more dangerous than an errant pull on tractor implements, or the handling of that pernickety bull. There are people there to listen to you – from RSABI to the Young Farmer’s Are Ewe Okay? Program. Often your neighbour might be struggling with mental health, perhaps take that break over a cuppa and let another assist in your problems.
The key message as the evidence shows is to pause before undertaking an activity and consider the risks posed and how you can reduce them. The legislation and guidance on the area on health and safety is by no means short and where you have a doubt about your farming enterprise should seek professional guidance to ensure you are not about to act in a way which puts you, your employee or your business at risk. Invest in yourself, your farm and your own health to protect your ventures moving forward.
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